Let me tell you a story about storytelling.
There was this century. Not some King. Not some random ass kid — none of that bullshit. A whole period. Once upon a freakin century.
It was rough: the catastrophic progress, the mental gentrification, and dial-up Internet. The A-listers of the time were fools, dictators, and psychopaths. Sometimes all three, and them we respectfully called scientists and philosophers. Or dad.
Success in the 20th century meant being able to hold on to your job and your family. Your misfortune. If a picture says a 1000 words, here’s one to depict the century: A family, with a boatload of butt-naked children – all awkward about being photographed – looking straight at the camera. Two colors. A million emotions. History.
The kids in the picture would marry and procreate and the results would go on to click pictures of themselves, an act repeated so often it’d make narcissus nauseous and the awkwardness in the earlier picture look like the most natural thing. A million colors. Two emotions. Dread and doucheness. Foreshadowing.
Here’s your first storytelling lesson: Create conflict and keep moving toward it.
There is this other century. The one in which you are reading this greatest story. Everybody likes to dogpile on this century because it’s by far the most peaceful one and we don’t know of another way to keep the Internet running. This century’s single-minded curiosity is to point at everything and ask, how can I make this about me? Where’s the picture for us, you never asked.
If you thought all the previous centuries had some wonky beliefs, this century is a hat of bunnyshit. A recent entrant into the self-help chlamydia is storytelling. And according to every moral sellout out there, the ability to pull stories out of your arse is a power that belongs in the marvel universe.
For millennia, storytelling is the only skill humanity possessed without actually knowing it. It would be ridiculous for me to say Grandma was a great storyteller. It’s like saying the cow’s a great chewer. Storytelling, much like pretty much everything else that exists in the world, goes back to Socrates and Aristotle. Or as the Internet calls them: Oscar Wilde.
This century is going to be the boring chapter everyone skips. There’s one hope though. It’s called Artificial General Intelligence. It takes away all our jobs so we have one last shot at doing interesting things and when we don’t, it wipes us out. Clear history.
Which brings us to storytelling lesson #2: imagination. The higher, the better. Like robots killing off everyone except me and the children born from the re-population effort (I love you too, Siri) are actually dinosaurs which I sell to the aliens in exchange for their Tesla.
But when imagination has a goal, it stagnates.
Grandma never took a storytelling seminar. She heard stories from her parents, give it her plot-twists, inserted absurd cliff-hangers, and changed entire endings and that’s what made the story even better than the original. And we’d want to hear the same story over and over because of how she told it. The stories we hear now have lost that capacity for mystery and wonder. It’s been replaced by shock and reaction. It’s only furthered our post-modernistic hatred for anything that needs this thing called thinking.
As more things get subsumed to serve our end, the more of the sublime we being to lose. That’s what is happening to stories. Case in point: Our lives have come to resemble reality TV and not the other way around.
Because we want to be the stories. Editing is our living. Filtering, our becoming. Given how religiously vain and casually pretentious we are, we can only hope the people that will tell stories about this century are kind to us. Like Grandma was. Because we all know the original story so far is chickenshit.
Here is the final story-telling lesson: Don’t tell shitty stories, at least to yourself. We don’t need more storytellers and their contrived autobios. Great stories were born out of people who listened, experienced, and passed on their truths. As dreams. As songs. As love.
The real world is filled with unimaginableness. You are its conflict. You are neither the story nor the teller. You are the century.